An examination of effective instructional and social interactions to learn English as a Second Language in a bilingual setting

Date of Completion

January 1999


Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Education, Curriculum and Instruction




American schools face an unprecedented challenge in the 21st century—educating a widely diverse student body (Garcia, 1994; Valdes, 1998). English language learners (ELLs) who come to these schools face the challenge of learning English as a second language (ESL), and of attaining academic proficiency in all content areas of the curriculum (Cummins, 1995). They also need to adjust to a new culture and a new educational system (Cummins, 1996; Valdes, 1998). To succeed in school, ELLs must develop both academic and ESL skills (Custodio & Sutton, 1998). The case of Hispanics is aggravated because they do not only continue to have lower levels of education and higher dropout rates, but constitute the largest minority group in the United States (August & McArthur, 1996; Rong & Preissle, 1998). ^ The purpose of this study was to examine high school students' cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) learning via a highly interactive approach called “instructional conversations” (Tharp & Gallimore, 1988, 1989, 1991). This approach, developed from research conducted in the area of sociocultural pedagogy, is grounded in bilingual and social constructivist theory. It recognizes that ELLs, regardless of class, ethnicity, or language proficiency, construct their knowledge socially through meaningful interactions with teachers and peers (Ada, 1988; Moll & Diaz, 1993; Tharp & Yamauchi, 1994). ^ The participants were 60 high school ELLs, grades 9 through 12, enrolled in an intermediate ESL course in a bilingual program. Data was collected through key informant interviews, direct observation, and focus groups and analyzed through an ethnographic approach. A frequency count of use of content lexicon in students' writings is reported. The results of this study seem to suggest that through the IC, with teacher facilitation and peer support, ELLs drew on their previous knowledge and constructed meaning from classroom discussion to understand complex content. The trend also appears to indicate that ICs promote the production and learning of content lexicon. ^